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Wilsey or Won’t She? FAMSF’s Board Head Defies Regime Change (plus: Albright-Knox name change)

Now she’s a board chair, not president. But whatever names you call her, it appears that Diane (“Dede”) Wilsey has out-maneuvered the proponents of regime change at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The smartest move in this continuing chess game comes from Max Hollein, FAMSF’s new director, who (in conformance with professional guidelines [p. 5] for art museum directors) has rightly assumed the CEO position that was previously held by Wilsey: When asked by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Phil Matier and Andy Ross if he “expected less meddling from Wilsey or other board members in museum operations,” Hollein astutely replied, “That’s a trick question.” There was no way to answer it without antagonizing the people he needs to work with.

Max Hollein Photo by FAMSF

Max Hollein
Photo by FAMSF

Having taken the measure of Max through two wide-ranging conversations, my money is on his ability to adroitly navigate this tricky minefield. Having lost its previous director, Colin Bailey, after barely two years, FAMSF can ill afford to get a reputation for revolving-door directorships.

Although her title of “president” has been retired, Wilsey will be not only the board’s chair, but also the chair of its executive committee, which bespeaks real power, not figurehead status. At least she hasn’t demanded that the museum (on which she has heaped extraordinary largess over the years) change its name to the Wilsey Museum.

No such luck for the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, henceforth to be known as the Albright-Knox-Gundlach Museum (which sounds like a law firm) or, alternatively, “the Buffalo AKG Art Museum” (which sounds like an assault rifle). Couldn’t Jeffrey Gundlach have settled for a lobby-naming opportunity rather than foisting this ungainly moniker on the grateful recipient of his $42.5-million matching grant for the museum’s planned expansion, designed by OMA principal Shohei Shigematsu?

It seems that former Helsinki Art Museum director Janne Sirén, the AKG Museum’s Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director (naming opportunity already taken), made a wise move when he gave up his chance to lead the stalled Guggenheim Helsinki for a museum more likely to succeed in its capital ambitions.

Janne Sirén, fronting Clyfford Still’s “October 1950” at the Albright-Knox Gallery Photograph by Tom Loonan

Janne Sirén with Clyfford Still’s “October 1950” at the Albright-Knox Gallery
Photo by Tom Loonan

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